Author : Alicia Cerra Waters
“Don’t touch that,” I said as I slapped Henry’s hand. His doughy cheeks formed a pout as he let go of the zipper of his thermo suit. Somehow, hiking through the mountains of a planet on the brink of being engulfed by a dying star had not helped melt the baby fat away from his face. I thought about telling him that the silvery material that covered his body was much lighter and more comfortable than it had been thirty years ago when my sister and I settled here, but it probably wouldn’t have done any good. There was no forgetting his horrified expression as he got off the shuttle and took in the crumbling mountains, saying
“This is a planet?!”
Through the plastic of his helmet, I saw him frown the way that he did when all that was left for dinner were dehydrated peas. “It itches. I hate this.”
“The rays from a sun this hot will give you cancer in about three minutes, not to mention burn off your skin,” I told him, for the thousandth time. “If you want to live, don’t take off the suit.”
Henry dug his toe into the sand and made an angry, red tornado out of dust. What did I expect? My sister raised him on one of the developed blue planets where every building had indoor plumbing and you were the poor kid if you didn’t own at least two hoverbikes. For a moment, I felt sick. She never imagined her son would live here.
“This is where we’re sleeping,” I said. We were behind the crest of a mountain, which offered a small portion of shade. I took off my pack, and instantly my head and shoulders felt light enough to float away from my body. Sometimes I thought that getting us off of this planet would kill me before the exploding sun got a chance.
I unfolded the tent, wondering if today would be the day that I finally managed to get the anchors to stay in the crumbling earth. Henry was watching a black salamander crawl down the side of a boulder. The salamanders were some of the only creatures that hadn’t gone extinct in the heat; except for a few rare birds that scientists had rescued, every other life form had already perished.
The salamander crawled into the palm of Henry’s hand and raised its head as if it were searching for something. I was about to ask the kid to help me, but then he said, “My mom used to live here, right?”
I put down the anchor. “Yeah, we lived here when we were your age.”
He squinted. “Why are we leaving?”
“The sun is going to swallow this planet soon.”
Henry turned his head towards the red orb and watched it sink wearily towards the mountains. “So, where will everything go?”
“Nowhere. It’ll be dust floating through the galaxy.”
“This mountain, those rocks, those dead trees,” he said as he looked into the valley.
Where he grew up, he used to have a hoverbike and a nanny with scaly purple skin who was an immigrant from one of the outer planets. He used to have other rich kids for friends. He used to have a mother.
Henry lowered his pointer finger onto the salamander’s head and gave it a light touch. His round, dark eyes were fixed on the small creature as its pink tongue flicked in and out of its mouth, as if he were still waiting for the real answer.
Author : Leanne A. Styles
“Welcome to your new life,” the foreman says, thrusting a set of gardening tools and a pair of overalls at me.
I take them and file in line behind my little brother.
“Have you ever seen so much green in your life, Della?” my brother says, pulling on his overalls eagerly. “I’ve heard it’s all done by converting the sea water to fresh water.”
“Fascinating,” I say flatly as I step, reluctantly, into my overalls. “I still can’t believe mum made us leave the desert to come and work in this place.”
“Oh, please cheer up. At least we’re all together.”
“Not all of us,” I say under my breath.
He ignores my comment, and says, “Anyway, you know the developers would have bought the land eventually. And I know you found all that moving around just as tiring as we did. You’re only sour because you had to set the horses free.”
The line starts to move. One by one, we reach our stations. My brother, having already committed his training manual to memory, drops to his knees and immediately starts plucking any dead leaves from his tomato plants.
I kneel beside him and start tending to my own plot. “Let’s move to the eco city, mum said.” Pluck. Pluck. “It’ll be fun.” Snip. Snip. “Who needs fresh air and freedom?”
But my brother doesn’t respond. He’s chatting and laughing with the boy next to him.
I wonder if he misses dad at all.
The girl next to me says, “It’s not that bad once you get used to it. We have fun too. Everybody looks out for each other here. We’re one big community. And as part of a community, you have to do your bit.”
“What if I don’t want to be part of a community?”
She frowns. “Why wouldn’t you?”
“Never mind.” Pluck. Pluck.
At dinner, the performance evaluation. My brother grins proudly as the foreman leads the team in applause. All plants tended to. Hydroponics running at maximum. A record first day for the new boy.
“Better luck tomorrow,” the foreman says to me.
“Maybe you can get the horses to carry the fruit for you?” someone mutters.
My bother giggles with his new clan.
Dad would be so proud.
Through the towering glass wall of the hive, the sun is steadily sinking below the mountains, a fractured stream of orange laying an inviting path across the ocean waves. Beyond the shore, at the path’s end, the prairie lands, my home. Where my father taught me to track animals and tame foals. Maybe I could swim, and run, and find him…
The window suddenly dims, turning into a huge screen. A list of names in big green letters runs across the middle. I count five.
“What was that about?” I ask.
“At the end of each day we see who we lost,” the older girl sitting opposite me says.
“How did they die?”
“Accidents, probably… Sometimes people drown.”
“In the ocean?”
Nod. “The guards try to stop them, but sometimes they just―”
The boy sitting to the left of the older girl clamps his hand around her wrist. “What she means is, sometimes people ignore the warnings and… go for a swim,” he says to me. “The guards do their best to revive them, but, you know?” He shrugs.
“Don’t worry, though.” He tightens his grip on the girl’s arm and smiles. “We all look out for each other here.”
Author : Callum Wallace
“Forward! Move forward!”
I duck the humming blue blow as the throng presses me onwards.
“How much further?” Davos looks afraid, scared of the dark, frightened of the ubiquitous pressing weight above.
I grip his hand, “We’ll know soon enough.”
The ceiling thickens. Air becomes thick, nasty, hard to swallow.
Sallow lanterns joke about light as the darkness squashes us, making us formless, one, a huddled mass, the underclass, alone in our multitude.
“What’s going to –” His whisper is cut off by a booming voice that echoes around the tightly packed space, ignoring the bodies trapped there, strong, powerful.
“Friends! Fellow slaves! Urchins, off casts, dregs. I’m sure you’ve been called them all. But listen now! We are mistreated, pushed about, abused and used, only to be cast aside and discarded when it is no longer appropriate for us to be seen above ground, broken and useless!”
There is a heavy pause as the voice soaks up the eagerly listening air around them.
“It is time for this to end! It is time for us to rise up! Look at us! How many of us are sent underground to await death? Ten-thousand? Twenty?
“More than enough. With this number, we could –”
I turn away, pulling Davos close. His eyes are still wide, still deathly afraid, but I note the dangerous gleam, the spark that leads to violence. “Come on, let’s get out of here. We can still find a hab-shelter, I’m sure.”
“No. He’s right. This is too far.”
Grimace. “This is your first ramp?” He nods. “I’ve lost count, Davos. It never changes. Every time, it’s the same. Trust me. Now come on.”
He pulls his hand from mine, eyes wide as saucers in the gloom. “What do you mean? There are other ramps? They’ve sent more of us down? That means there are more of us to fight!”
I shake my head. “No. One ramp at a time. They send us down the ramp, wait for the inevitable fight, wipe you out and start all over. Do you recognise anyone down here? Ever seen any newscasts, any footage of any rebels at all? Think about it.”
Shudder. “She was the first. And one of the first to die, or go missing. Every rebellion happens because of her, and thousands of humans have been culled because of her.
“Please, Davos, come with me. It isn’t worth throwing your life away. Do an old woman a favour.”
The speech overhead is raising the crowd to a fever pitch. You can taste the metallic quality of the peoples’ excitement in the rank air.
“I have to do this. You would agree if you weren’t a coward. If you cared.”
He pushes away and into the swarm, one of the chosen, a hero in the making.
I shrug sadly, and go the other way, heading deeper down into the oppressive black of the ramp.
I know I should try harder, but it’s happened so many times before. I know it’s pointless, and I know what’ll happen. Davos will be dead by morning.
The Tregeél communicator vibrates silently against the inside of my skull, and my vision blurs.
“This is Twelve. It’s happening again. You’ll have to kill them all.”
Another buzz that shakes my teeth, and I find a hidden alcove where I can watch, safely above the surging idiots below me.
And I sit.
Author : Bob Newbell
As the sun went down over the giant dome that covered Mesogaea on Mars, moisture condensed on the dome’s inner surface. Soon, it was raining over the enclosed metropolis. Detective Vogt had read that rain was common on Earth before the Great Asteroid Collision. But he knew the cities of ancient Earth had been opened to the sky and so he felt certain that terrestrial rain was just another of the thousand myths that existed about humanity’s ancestral home.
Vogt marched down the hall of the police station to the interrogation room. At last, they’d captured one of the militant Gagarinists. Two police officers handcuffed a thin man to a chair and left Vogt in the room alone with him. Vogt sat down in the chair opposite the man.
“So, Mr.” — Vogt glanced at the datawriter on the table — “Corlew. I understand that–”
“I won’t tell you anything!” the prisoner interjected. “I won’t be here very long anyway.”
“You’re being detained without bail,” replied Vogt. As soon as he’d said it, he realized he had misinterpreted Corlew’s statement. “Oh,” continued Vogt, “you meant you won’t be on Mars very long.”
“Today is the day!” Corlew said giddily. “It’s been a thousand years!”
“A thousand Earth years?” asked Vogt.
“A thousand years!” insisted Corlew. “Today is April 12th, 2961! One millennium to the day that the Blessed Gagarin ascended into space.”
“The date is 21 Libra 718,” Vogt said flatly.
“The Martian calendar doesn’t matter,” replied Corlew defiantly.
Vogt ignored that. “Only archaeologists go to Earth. It’s uninhabitable.”
“Unbeliever!” screamed Corlew. “The Blessed Gagarin will renew the Earth and his acolyte, Neil of the Strong Arm, will transport the faithful there in a giant leap!”
Corlew struggled in vain against his restraints.
“I don’t care about your Earth cult, Corlew,” said Vogt. “I care about the claims some of your fellow Gagarinists made about planting bombs in several cities around the world.”
“People don’t belong here,” Corlew replied. “Is it natural to have to live under giant domes or underground? Is it right for children to grow up in a world with a pink sky instead of a blue one?”
“A lot of those children won’t get to grow up at all if your friends succeed in carrying out their threats.”
Corlew seemed to consider Vogt’s words. He ceased struggling against his restraints and sat back in the chair. “Alright,” said Corlew at last. “It won’t make any difference.” He looked at the clock on the wall. “The faithful will be on Earth any moment now anyway. I overheard Costa and Reddy talking about planting a–”
There was a low rumbling sound in the distance. The rain was now falling at a sharp eastward angle instead of straight down. The building’s centuries-old emergency bulkheads slammed down as the sound of dozens of decompression alarms overlapped each other.
Vogt tapped furiously on the datawriter. Pavonis Mons, Schiaparelli, Solis Planum, over a dozen others: the ring of domed cities that belted the Red Planet was bleeding atmosphere from a score of wounds.
Corlew turned pale. “I shouldn’t still be here,” he muttered.
From out in the corridor, a hundred voices roared. A few were police officers trying to restore calm, most were enraged civilians demanding that the Gagarinist be handed over to them. There was a violent pounding at the interrogation room door.
Vogt drew his pistol and aimed it at the door. “You didn’t want to live on Mars,” he said over his shoulder to Corlew. “Looks like you’re going to get your wish.”
Author : Perry McDaid (Falcon)
Revelation did not come as a rosy warm feeling of wonder, but a rending, ripping divestment of accepted resentment. It left a vacuum: a void greater than that between his adopted planet and the existence into which he had first … ‘been born’. This space would admit new love, but it was an icy cold void nonetheless.
Dizzying. There had been no great love affair; only need, deception and delusion. He’d been hanging on to those to hide from the shame and injured pride of having wasted precious years, and fear that there was no time for rebuilding.
“It’s cold.” It was that time of year. His eyes watered.
In the dream she’d told him that she was a different person. In the dream a tsunami had separated them and her life had been saved by another. He had tried to tell her that he still loved her despite being human: that she couldn’t have changed so much, but the unspoken words rang hollow even there.
He had tried to deny the hate he’d felt for anyone who touched her, anyone who had stepped between them, but those words too carried their own echoing falsehood.
Her accusations of sending threatening letters were hurtful in their ludicrousness, and he hated whoever had fabricated these lies.
He got out of bed and shuffled along the landing to the bathroom, did his ablutions and stepped into the shower.
The water was at the perfect temperature to counteract any sort of chill. He felt his muscles relax and the miasma of the emotional nightmare slough from his body.
“Damn, forgot a towel.”
He turned the shower off and stepped out, leaving wet footprints on the non-slip tiling and dripping on the landing carpet as he retraced his steps to the bedroom, stopping short of the beckoning bed to open the wardrobe: side-stepping the PGM 338 rifle case as it sought to crush his toes.
He pushed the deadly weapon back into its nook, berating himself for not having stored it more carefully. He grabbed a shirt and pair of trousers from the hangers and clean briefs and socks from the shelves and drawers respectively. An accidentally displaced woolly jumper revealed his old Walther.
“So that’s where you got to,” he admonished the matt black piece of craftsmanship. He loved the brutal brashness of Earth weapons.
The frequent trips to the secluded forest seemed fruitless now. The whole appeal of blending with the winter’s night the following week to snag another trophy dissolved in the face of aimlessness.
The image of mocha and a pack of chocolate digestives before a roaring fire shouldered their way in. The smile was a crack across his reptilian face.
It burned that he had gone to such expense and effort to become the marksman he was, only to have the driving anger expunged in but a dream.
Revenge had kept him company through the lonely decades, and now – like some fickle lover – had left him hanging. The wry grimace at the ludicrous vision of gunning down anthropomorphised Revenge proved an easier facial expression to manage.
Knock. He buttoned the shirt and opened the door.
“How do you feel about plushies?” the squirrel costume asked in a muffled version of her voice.
The dream came back to him. A different ‘person’? He imagined a ‘Psssst’ coming from the Walther cupboard.
On the dinette table, the wick on the Molotov cocktail he had fixed earlier to flush out targets wagged like a disapproving finger in the draught of the air-conditioner.
He was a hunter.